‘Shortly after two o’clock the first whiff of gas was detected,’ reported the Advertiser, when the ARP Services staged an imaginary air raid in Swindon town centre this week in 1941. ‘During the course of the exercise there were five separate incidents, including one in proximity to the Town Hall. Ambulance and first aid parties, together with decontamination squads, were early on the scene, and a number of ‘casualties’ were dealt with.’
A mild concentration of tear gas was released to increase the authenticity of the exercise and passersby caught without their regulation gas mask suffered a slight smarting of the eyes, according to the report.
The conduct of the public was described as very satisfactory with those who failed to carry gas masks the exception rather than the rule.
Meanwhile the Swindon Information Committee made preparations in case the town should suffer a heavy air raid.
‘One of the main needs after a ‘blitz’ must be the dissemination of vital information and instructions to the public,’ reported the Advertiser, ‘so a fleet of loudspeaker vans is to be organised to tour the town.’
With loud speaker equipment ready and waiting, car owners were asked to volunteer to drive in an emergency. A supply of petrol would be arranged and drivers were reassured that fitting the loudspeaker equipment would cause no damage to their vehicle. A panel of ‘spare’ announcers was also called for.
In February Edwin and Caroline of Albion Street marked their Golden Wedding anniversary and this week it was the turn of their best man and bridesmaid to celebrate theirs. Joseph Pepler and Mary Jane Rawlings married just weeks after their friends in 1891.
Originally from Corsham, Mr Pepler had spent eight years in the Army before moving to the GWR Works where he was employed for more than 30 years. Mrs Pepler was a former nurse. The couple had a son and two daughters and three grandchildren.
And another couple who celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary this week in 1941 was Arthur and Clara Woolford who had lived in the same Purton street all their lives.
Arthur, the son of a market gardener, was born at Pavenhill and his wife Clara the daughter of the landlord of the Live and Let Live Inn, just up the road.
The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary at their home, 3 The Homesteads, with their two surviving sons, seven daughters and 13 grandchildren. Their eldest son, Joseph John was killed in action during the First World War, aged 19. A driver in the Royal Field Artillery, he was buried at the Maubeuge-Centre Cemetery, France.
Fragments of glass removed from the toe of a soldier’s boot were produced as evidence at Swindon Borough Police Court this week in 1941.
Having missed his bus and look for a ‘doss’, Gunner McBride was directed to Vitti’s lodging house in Albert Street by Constable Wiltshire. The soldier had been drinking but was not drunk, said PC Wiltshire. Alexander Vitti, manager of the lodging house, was later woken by the sound of smashing glass.
Following his arrest one of McBride’s boots and a piece of glass from the lodging house window were sent to Edward Parkes of the Home Office Laboratory in Bristol for microscopic examination who confirmed that the glass removed from the boot matched with the window glass.
McBride, who said he had been drinking with some ‘Irish boys,’ claimed to have no memory of talking to Constable Wiltshire nor of smashing the window and causing £6 10s damage.
Gunner James McBride was found guilty of causing malicious damage to a plate glass window and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment.
Nearly 500 members of the Institution were in the Forces or engaged on work of national importance, members were told at the annual general meeting of the GWR Mechanics’ Institution.
With a credit of £44 it was reported that the dance hall had done extremely well and the Playhouse had exceeded all previous years. Mr P.H. Phillips, librarian at the Institution, had also been busy and had issued no fewer than 228,871 books, but sadly one casualty of the war had been the annual Juvenile Fete held in the GWR Park on Faringdon Road.
The fete had been suspended for the duration of the war, the first break in its 75 year history. ‘The considerable financial loss involved had been offset by the effective economies carried out by the committee,’ the meeting was told.
Swindon girls were pictured doing their bit in the ATS at an unidentified camp somewhere in the South of England.
“They come from all walks of life,” an Advertiser reported recorded in a special feature. “I found three clerks from the GWR Works, two shop assistants from Boots, several girls from Garrard’s and Wills’s, but looking very much alike nowadays in their neat khaki uniforms. And they have a former Swindon woman as their C.O. Junior Commander E.T. Vizard.”
Following an average eight hour day the girls received training in decontamination work, fire fighting and first aid.
Girls and women between the ages of 18 and 40 were encouraged to apply to the Recruiting Office in Swindon and to state that they wanted to be attached to the Wiltshire platoon.
Fashion tips in the weekly Advertiser included a distinctive frock for the matron, suggested by Madame Doreen.
‘Smartness does not necessarily depend upon slimness,’ advised Madam Doreen. ‘On the contrary, the well developed figure can be very charmingly attired in a variety of styles which are inexpensive and quite easy to make up.’
With a cross over front described as, ‘kind to the figure,’ the pattern was available in bust sizes 36-48 inches for the cost of 9d in stamps.
‘The pattern takes three and three quarter yards of 36” to 38” wide material, a scrap of fabric for the vest and a nice brooch or clip.’
Despite petrol rationing the price of a second hand car was actually appreciating. A sale in Swindon market in which four second hand cars were put up for auction proved quite an eye opener according to auctioneer Mr John M. Farrant.
A 1933 Alvis fetched £37 10s with two Austin Sevens making £87 10s for a 1939 tourer and £57 10s for a 1936 two seater.
The main reason for the surge in second hand prices was the scarcity of available new vehicles. With car production reduced, any new cars were earmarked for export to bring in much needed foreign exchange for the country’s war effort.
Peggy Field, a former London model, told the Advertiser how she gave up the high life to volunteer for the Women’s Land Army. Following a short course at an Agricultural College, Peggy was posted to Kenneth Peploe’s farm at Walcot.
“During the past winter she has ploughed more than 100 acres,” the report continued. “It has not all been easy going, and the weather was often trying, but Peggy was unperturbed. Often she kept at it longer than the men, and on only three occasions has she slipped back to London for a few hours.”
“Last night the Luftwaffe successfully attacked the port of Plymouth with strong bomber formations,” a communiqué from the German High Command announced. “Particularly good visibility facilitated the aiming of bombs and resulted in excellent hits. In the harbour and dock establishments, big fires resulted. Several ships broke out in flames. The Naval Supply Depot was seriously damaged.”
Three churches, a cinema, a store, commercial premises and many houses were among the properties damaged while casualties were estimated to be heavy.
Nineteen year old sergeant air gunner-wireless operator Desmond Cyril Morrison was killed in a flying accident while serving with the Coast Command.
Sergeant Morrison, a former Lethbridge Road School pupil and student at the College, Swindon, was the son of Cyril and Gladys Morrison, of 224 Marlborough Road.
Before joining the RAF, VR in July 1940, Sergeant Morrison was employed as a draughtsman-architect. The funeral took place at Christ Church, Swindon.
This week’s weddings included that of Winifred Lilian Hayles, cook at the Swindon Maternity Home, and Lance Sergeant Clarence D. Rabbetts of the Royal Corps of Signals who married at St Mary’s, Rodbourne Cheney. Afterwards the couple entertained their guests at a reception at the Raymond Hall, Southbrook Street. And Sergeant George Haig Smith married Barbara Alice Brunt at Christ Church, Swindon.
The Ministry of Food announced that the meat ration would be reduced from 1s 2d to 1s for the week beginning March 31. The child ration would also be reduced from 7d to 6d.
Sergeant Pilot Douglas Spencer Matthews of 24 Shrivenham Road was promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer following his recent award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.